The 6 Best Lightweight Laptops to Buy in 2016

Ultrabooks: fulfill all your computer's needs without the added bulk and weight

The moment Steve Jobs pulled the first generation MacBook Air out of a manila envelope in front of the press, the Ultrabook industry was born. Since that time, Ultrabooks have come a long way, gaining more processing power, fast storage and excellent battery life. They are the sweet spot between heavier, albeit more powerful laptops and the less powerful, less capable tablets. These lightweight computers offer something for everyone, so read on to see which of the six laptops below would be best for you.

Best Overall: Dell XPS 13

Dell XPS 13
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The Dell XPS 13 packs a 13.3” display in a laptop the size of a typical 11” notebook, which makes for a computer that’s both compact and lightweight. Whether you’re at work or playing, the 2.6-pound XPS 13 has more than enough horsepower to get you through the day.

Our model of choice includes an Intel Core i5 2.30 GHz processor, 8GB of RAM, 128GB SSD, up to 11 hours of battery life and Windows 10. That option is priced several hundred dollars cheaper than Apple’s MacBook Air. Unfortunately, it doesn't have a QHD+ display, but still offers the non-touch InfinityEdge border which remains stunning no matter your configuration. With a comfortable keyboard to type on, precise trackpad, huge range of configurations and a design that’s unrivaled, the Dell XPS 13 is fantastic. Buy from Amazon »

Best Budget: Asus ZenBook UX305UA

Asus ZenBook UX305UA
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Some might call it a MacBook Air knock-off, but the Asus ZenBook UX305UA is one of the best affordable lightweight Ultrabooks on the market. While the price means some sacrifices, notably a touchscreen and backlit keyboard, you get a 13.3” display, Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM, 256 SSD and up to 10 hours of battery life.

At 3.2 pounds, the UX305A tips the scale on this list at a half-pound heavier than our overall favorite, the Dell XPS 13. We’re happy to say the keyboard is excellent (even though it lacks a backlight), and the touchpad handles Windows 10 multi-touch gestures with gusto. Unfortunately, the downward-facing speakers are hidden underneath the bottom of the UX305UA, which leads to a bit of muffling. Interestingly, the Core i5 CPU available on the UX305UA is slightly more powerful than the Dell XPS 13.

Asus claims most users will see around 10 hours of battery life, but the general review consensus was closer to 6 hours, a number we’d like to see climb higher. However, given the budget title, tradeoffs must happen. As for heat, it isn’t an issue, which bodes well for the budget pricing. Buy from Amazon »

Best for Portability: 2016 MacBook

2016 MacBook
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Over the past six years, Apple has set the bar for lightweight laptops. And the 2016 MacBook offers a powerful 1.1GHz Core M processor, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD and a 12” IPS 2304X1440 Retina display. Apple offers additional upgrades, including a faster processor and more storage. And regardless of your processor choice, Apple’s 2016 MacBook proves to be expensive by most standards but also screams premium design and engineering.

Carved out of solid aluminum, the MacBook weighs just over 2 pounds and is 13.1mm thick, which is even thinner than the MacBook Air. The addition of the Force Touch offers the sensation of having a trackpad that doesn’t physically move but offers the illusion of a click sensation when tapped. This is useful when tapping on a specific word to see a definition or allowing you to sign a document online via the trackpad. Apple’s set the bar for trackpads over the past half-decade and the streak continues with the MacBook.

Realistically, the increased performance in Apple’s newest MacBook offers up a 20 percent boost over the 2015 model. Battery life is another area where the MacBook shines offering up around 10 hours according to Apple and by most tests under normal usage, Apple nails that number. The single USB-C port is a tough proposition. It offers speedy transfer rates and fast charging at the expense of requiring additional adapters and plugs if you want to charge both your phone and laptop at the same time. It’s something to definitely consider before taking the leap with the MacBook but if you do, you’ll find a stunning, portable, beautifully thin laptop that’s perfect for day trips. In fact, throwing the MacBook in your bag almost feels like nothing at all, and for the best portable prize, that’s exactly what we want.  Buy from Amazon »

Best for Business: Microsoft Surface Book

Microsoft Surface Book
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While all the options on this list are powerful enough for everyday tasks, sometimes the professional world needs to take things one step further. Microsoft’s Surface Book is about taking the leap from everyday use to professional use all in a lightweight form factor. If you have eyed the Surface line in years past but been scared off by the notion of a hybrid tablet/laptop, Microsoft created the magnesium-built Surface Book just for you. This is a 3.48-pound and 0.9” thin high-end machine that is designed to look past the standard Ultrabook and leave other computers well in the rear-view. The 13.5” display Surface Book offers 3000x2000 resolution, a Core i5 or i7 processor, RAM options up to 16 GB and SSD storage up to 1TB.

Make no mistake about it: the Surface Book isn’t just a detachable display that doubles as a tablet with a keyboard dock. This is a machine that offers the best possible combination between the tablet and lightweight laptop worlds. Releasing the 13.5” screen feels well-engineered, but we should note the screen is home to the CPU, while the keyboard “Book” houses the GPU. Needless to say, if you try and transfer an intense application, say Photoshop, while using both, the end result won't be the best.

Microsoft claims to offer 3 hours from the detached display and around 12 hours of battery life when both parts are combined. The disparity is due to the battery mostly being in the keyboard hardware. Real-world use hovers somewhere between 8-9 hours with everyday activity and because this is a professional notebook, add in an intense application like Photoshop and you’re likely to see more like 7 hours. Still, even at that battery life, you’re in line with other models on this list and lightweight laptops in general. More »

Best Design: HP Spectre

HP Spectre
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At just 10.4mm thick, HP’s Spectre laptop is the current title holder of world’s thinnest laptop and it’s priced in line with most of its lightweight competition. Somehow, HP managed to stick a full Core i5 or, for a few dollars more, a Core i7 CPU, a superbright 13.3” 1920x1080 HD display, 8GB of RAM, 256GB SSD and a fantastic keyboard. Sparing no expense, HP designed a specialized hinge to support the thin engineering and while it’s a tad bit fingerprint heavy, it feels premium. Weighing just 2.45 pounds, the Spectre has the privilege of making other laptops on this list look a little heavy.

Fortunately, the keyboard on the Spectre matches the promise of the build quality and it's comfortable, even with just 1.33mm of space between keys. The touchpad has some jumpiness, which is a minor nuisance, but HP promises a driver fix in an upcoming update. As for the display, calling it best-in-class would be an understatement, even if that’s exactly what it is. The Spectre outpaces its closest rivals, the 12” Apple MacBook and Dell’s non-touch XPS. Surprisingly, HP was able to fit speakers in despite having what appears to be no room and, while we hoped for a little more bass, the speakers are good enough for everyday listening.

On the downside, battery life isn't the best and HP designed a specialized “hyperbaric” cooling chamber to keep the computer running cool, but if you do anything more than simple web browsing and a Word document, it can quickly heat up. This is an area we hope to see HP try and control through software updates which can better regulate the fan to keep things cooler. More »

Best Large Screen: Samsung 15” Notebook 9

Samsung 15” Notebook 9
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For the most part, when we think lightweight laptop, we immediately reject any size over 13.3”. But Samsung’s 15” Notebook 9 redefines how we should view the thin-and-light laptop, and with very good reason. The Notebook 9 offers a Core i7 processor, 8GB RAM, 256 GB SSD and 1920-by-1080 display. Weighing just under 3 pounds and 0.57” in thickness, Samsung proves once and for all that big screen laptops can be portable and slip right into a bag without compromising performance. The solid design is backed by magnesium-alloy, which offers a premium-type feel with a hinge that opens and closes smoothly. If you have any concerns about a 15” laptop feeling unbalanced in your lap, don’t worry as the Notebook 9 stays exactly where you want.

The number pad was left off the Samsung 9 in favor of a roomier keyboard. The keyboard is just OK, good enough to be used every day but it doesn’t stand out for any particular reason. The same can be said about the touchpad, as it recognizes gestures accurately and feels frictionless. The addition of two USB 3.0 ports and a USB-C port allows for plugging in your phone and charging while the laptop is sleeping. Not only will this help free up some cords around your desk, it’s something we hope to see offered as standard for lightweight laptops moving forward.

Samsung offers an HD display that is more than enough for everyday use, but, like the keyboard, color reproduction won’t knock your socks off. When it comes to sound, the Samsung 9 offers up a great experience with speakers both on the front and the bottom. Even if you place the notebook on a desk, sound is crisp and you can make out the clear bass output. When it comes to performance, the Notebook 9 is not to be mistaken for a gaming machine or a high-end premium laptop and that’s not how Samsung has positioned it. The 12-hour battery life that Samsung promises actually only lasts 6 to 7 hours, but overall, the wallet-friendly price, beautiful hardware and everyday performance make the Samsung Notebook 9 our pick for best full-size lightweight laptop.  Buy from Amazon »


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